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Chapter 18 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

The Creole and Quadroon

I slept for perhaps an hour soundly. Then something awoke me, and I lay for some moments only half sensible to outward impressions.

Pleasant impressions they were. Sweet perfumes floated around me; and I could distinguish a soft, silky rustling, such as betokens the presence of well-dressed women.

“He wakes, ma’amselle!” half whispered a sweet voice.

My eyes, now open, rested upon the speaker. For some moments I thought it was but the continuation of my dream. There was the dream-face, the black profuse hair, the brilliant orbs, the arching brows, the small, curving lips, the damask cheek—all before me!

“Is it a dream? No—she breathes; she moves; she speaks!”

“See! ma’amselle—he looks at us! Surely he is awake!”

“It is no dream, then—no vision; it is she—it is Aurore!”

Up to this moment I was still but half conscious. The thought had passed from my lips; but, perhaps, only the last phrase was uttered loud enough to be heard. An ejaculation that followed fully awoke me, and I now saw two female forms close by the side of my couch. They stood regarding each other with looks of surprise. One was Eugénie; beyond doubt the other was Aurore!

“Your name!” said the astonished mistress.

“My name!” repeated the equally astonished slave.

“But how?—he knows your name—how?”

“I cannot tell, ma’amselle.”

“Have you been here before?”

“No; not till this moment.”

“’Tis very strange!” said the young lady, turning towards me with an inquiring glance.

I was now awake, and in full possession of my senses—enough to perceive that I had been talking too loud. My knowledge of the quadroon’s name would require an explanation, and for the life of me I knew not what to say. To tell what I had been thinking—to account for the expressions I had uttered—would have placed me in a very absurd position; and yet to maintain silence might leave Ma’amselle Besançon busy with some strange thoughts. Something must be said—a little deceit was absolutely necessary.

In hopes she would speak first, and, perchance, give me a key to what I should say, I remained for some moments without opening my lips. I pretended to feel pain from my wound, and turned uneasily on the bed. She seemed not to notice this, but remained in her attitude of surprise, simply repeating the words—

“’Tis very strange he should know your name!”

My imprudent speech had made an impression. I could remain silent no longer; and, turning my face once more, I pretended now for the first time to be aware of Mademoiselle’s presence, at the same time offering my congratulations, and expressing my joy at seeing her.

After one or two anxious inquiries in relation to my wound, she asked—

“But how came you to name Aurore?”

“Aurore!” I replied. “Oh! you think it strange that I should know her name? Thanks to Scipio’s faithful portraiture, I knew at the first glance that this was Aurore.”

I pointed to the quadroon, who had retired a pace or two, and stood silent and evidently astonished.

“Oh! Scipio has been speaking of her?”

“Yes, ma’amselle. He and I have had a busy morning of it. I have drawn largely on Scipio’s knowledge of plantation affairs. I am already acquainted with Aunt Chloe, and little Chloe, and a whole host of your people. These things interest me who am strange to your Louisiana life.”

“Monsieur,” replied the lady, seemingly satisfied with my explanation, “I am glad you are so well. The doctor has given me the assurance you will soon recover. Noble stranger! I have heard how you received your wound. For me it was—in my defence. Oh! how shall I ever repay you?—how thank you for my life?”

“No thanks, ma’amselle, are necessary. It was the fulfilment of a simple duty on my part. I ran no great risk in saving you.”

“No risk, monsieur! Every risk—from the knife of an assassin—from the waves. No risk! But, monsieur, I can assure you my gratitude shall be in proportion to your generous gallantry. My heart tells me so;—alas, poor heart! it is filled at once with gratitude and grief.”

“Yes, ma’amselle, I understand you have much to lament, in the loss of a faithful servant.”

“Faithful servant, monsieur, say, rather, friend. Faithful, indeed! Since my poor father’s death, he has been my father. All my cares were his; all my affairs in his hands. I knew not trouble. But now, alas! I know not what is before me.”

Suddenly changing her manner, she eagerly inquired—

“When you last saw him, monsieur, you say he was struggling with the ruffian who wounded you?”

“He was.—It was the last I saw of either. There is no hope—none—the boat went down a few moments after. Poor Antoine! poor Antoine!”

Again she burst into tears, for she had evidently been weeping before. I could offer no consolation. I did not attempt it. It was better she should weep. Tears alone could relieve her.

“The coachman, Pierre, too—one of the most devoted of my people—he, too, is lost. I grieve for him as well; but Antoine was my father’s friend—he was mine—Oh! the loss—the loss;—friendless; and yet, perhaps, I may soon need friends. Pauvre Antoine!”

She wept as she uttered these phrases. Aurore was also in tears. I could not restrain myself—the eyes of childhood returned, and I too wept.

This solemn scene was at length brought to a termination by Eugénie, who appearing suddenly to gain the mastery over her grief, approached the bedside.

“Monsieur,” said she, “I fear for some time you will find in me a sad host. I cannot easily forget my friend, but I know you will pardon me for thus indulging in a moment of sorrow. For the present, adieu! I shall return soon, and see that you are properly waited upon. I have lodged you in this little place, that you might be out of reach of noises that would disturb you. Indeed I am to blame for this present intrusion. The doctor has ordered you not to be visited, but—I—I could not rest till I had seen the preserver of my life, and offered him my thanks. Adieu, adieu! Come, Aurore!”

I was left alone, and lay reflecting upon the interview. It had impressed me with a profound feeling of friendship for Eugénie Besançon;—more than friendship—sympathy: for I could not resist the belief that, somehow or other, she was in peril—that over that young heart, late so light and gay, a cloud was gathering.

I felt for her regard, friendship, sympathy,—nothing more. And why nothing more? Why did I not love her, young, rich, beautiful? Why?

Because I loved another—I loved Aurore!

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